note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
by Susan Daniels The folks at Rough & Tumble Theatre are up to their old tricks again. Led by artistic director Dan Milstein, the intrepid players and creative staff have forged an evening of light entertainment that seems to have sprouted, full grown, from a reservoir of sketchy ideas into an inventive interplay of character-driven dialogue and physical comedy.
This is not the kind of interplay one would find across the river at American Repertory Theatre, currently showing “The Provok’d Wife,” a 17th play noted for its physical humor and sprightly discourse. By all means, no. But rather, an organically developed staging of nine give-and-take scenarios that offer some hits -- and some misses -- all earnestly performed in a small, versatile space, on the second floor of the Boston Center for the Art’s new Pavilion.
With “I’m away from my desk right now . . .: An Indie Play,” the seven-year-old, anti-establishment theater troupe presents a slice-of-life peek into the cubicled setting of corporate America.
Each playet has its own title and clearly defined characters. These montage-like offerings include a female employee, who talks on the phone loudly and continuously throughout the day, much to the dismay of a male co-worker, ensconced on the other side of the cubicle; a supervisor, passing to and fro in the hallway, who regularly forgets the names of his underlings; a timid, tongue-tied woman, smitten with the new guy on the block, but unable to rally her social graces during their “chance” meetings; or two colleagues, eulogizing the firing of a third, while trying to make sense of an inane project that clearly demonstrates their total lack of understanding.
In one of the more bizarre scenes, a character portrayed by co-founder Kristin Baker presents a sketch of an employee determined to think out of the box, even though she is hanging out inside the box of a recycling bin. She carries on a mindless conversation with co-worker Irene Daly as though it is the most normal thing in the world for two colleagues to be chatting in the hallway in this manner -- one scrunched inside the box and the other standing outside. Periodically, Baker’s boss saunters by, inquiring as to her whereabouts, but always a second after Daly slams the lid. And so their hallway rendez-vous remains safe.
Plus, there are two episodes, sans dialogues, featuring a morning commute via the subway and an afternoon coffee break. Replete in its intended ho-humness, these vignettes tangibly depict another side of the daily grind, while Fred Harrington at the keyboard provides music that both connects and emphasizes the on-stage action.
Chosen in random order with the help of an audience volunteer, the material is not forced nor terribly deep, yet occasionally gives pause for thought, even if it is only momentary.
With “I’m away from my desk right now . . .,” Rough & Tumble’s 15th original production, the group continues its exploration into the idiosyncratic moments of life, aided by a five person ensemble that demonstrates a flair for experimentation and resourcefulness, especially company regulars George Saulnier III and the previously cited Baker; and local playwright William Donnelly, whose “Backwater: A Movie Play” was a big hit last season.
Rough & Tumble’s goal is to produce theater people enjoy actually as it is happening. Not later, while discussing the show over coffee, but right now in the present. The engaging troupe is so confident of their ability to succeed that they offer a money back guarantee to all patrons. What a deal!